The Nigerian has hailed the impact the former West Brom coach has had on his Chelsea career after establishing himself as a regular during the club’s recent run of form
Mikel has put in a string of impressive displays over recent weeks and is thankful to Di Matteo for changing the side’s formation to a 4-2-3-1, meaning the Nigerian has a partner alongside him in front of the Blues’ defence.
“Now we play with two, where one tends to stay a little bit more and the other has a little bit more licence to go,” Mikel told the club’s official magazine.
“So, it's pretty standard - it's not 4-4-2, but it's similar in some ways and it's been working well for us.
“Growing up, 4-4-2 was the standard for me. Then I came into the team at Chelsea and switched to a holding role. If I'm the only deep midfielder, it means I tend to play with more discipline.
“I need to be the one to keep the shape of the team, to be the one man holding, and every team needs that. It depends on what the manager wants to do and what he gives you permission to do.
“I've been here six years and in that time I have had managers who said, 'Don't even try it!'. But Robbie [Di Matteo] has encouraged it, and why not? I try to help the team and I try to show what I can do when I have the ball as well. I try to create and make the team play, to be a little bit more offensive, not only disciplined and defensive.”
The 25-year-old moved to Chelsea back in 2006 and he has admitted he had to make changes to his game after suffering with disciplinary problems in his first couple of years in English football.
He added: “When you play in the role I play and after the first two years you have got four red cards, you can't keep going like that. You have to sit and think and look at what you're doing wrong and what you're doing right.
“So, I looked at that aspect of my game and I saw that I really needed to watch the tackles that I went into.
“Sometimes, it's not just about going in for tackles, it's about knowing how to win the ball without having to go in for those challenges, which is something I've learned.
“Now, I tend to be closer to the ball so I can win it much more easily, to pressurise instead of making those silly tackles I used to make when I first came.
“The boys now have banter with me sometimes, saying, 'Remember four years ago when you used to kick us all the time in training'.”
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